Hospitals Reaping Financial Benefits of Telehealth

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media , July 19, 2012

COPC comprises 45 separate physician practices and an urgent care facility that's centrally located. Stone was one of the first five physicians trained to use the Care4 Station, which is essentially a booth in which a patient can utilize up to six digital peripheries (in some instances requiring the help of a midlevel) while conversing with a physician via secure video conferencing. In instances where using the periphery tool is challenging for the patient, such as the otoscope, or if the physician needs more information that requires a physical presence, a medical assist is just a button-push away.

During the pilot phase, the kiosk is situated in Central Ohio Primary Care's urgent care facility, and an on-site provider accesses it from an office within the building. Stone explains that  as the state hasn't passed a telehealth reimbursement mandate a physician still meets with each telehealth patient in-person following the electronic consult. Thus, the practice bills payers for an office visit.

The in-person follow-up is needed for another reason, Wulf explains, because Ohio prohibits prescribing to a patient the physician hasn't personally, physically examined. "Right now we're waiting for the Ohio state medical board to define what personally, physically examined means in the context of telehealth," he says.

Wulf and Stone agree that while the kiosk has been useful, it isn't going to help physicians see patients faster.

"I don't think a physician is going to get six-to-seven visits an hour by using it. We see the value in this tool as helping divert people from the ED," says Stone."And as we move from fee-for-service work into quality-based work, it's inevitable that one of the biggest metrics that will decide how much we get reimbursed will be the overall care of patients and cost of care."

Another use that Wulf and Stone see for these kiosks is putting booths in employer sites or areas with convenient public access that are connected to local primary care physicians' offices.

That's a future that may not be far off if the reimbursement climate continues to warm, agree Guy, Wechsler, Stone, and Wulf.  

"Eventually all payers will reimburse for telemedicine. It only makes perfect sense for them to do so. Right now they have concerns that reimbursing for this opens up a Pandora's box, and it will lead to all kinds of new payment structures, but I believe that concern is overblown and it will happen," says Wechsler.

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Reprint HLR0712-7

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Karen Minich-Pourshadi is a Senior Editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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3 comments on "Hospitals Reaping Financial Benefits of Telehealth"

Nirav Desai (8/30/2012 at 2:22 PM)
Just a few points worth adding: 1. Telehealth consults can actualy be better than face-to-face consults in some instances. For example, if a patient suffers from breathing problems and lives in a home with poor air quality, it is easier for a doctor to see how the patient's breathing is affected in his own home then to have the patient come in to the relatively clean environment of the office. 2. For-profit hospitals and health systems see telehealth as a significant advantage in increasing their competitiveness for getting new patients. Despite reimbursement challenges, I believe competition will drive telehealth adoption even more than patient outcomes. Hospitals are already feeling the pressure to increase profits, cut costs, and provide better quality care - and telehealth affords them the ability to leverage their resources to accomplish this.

Ruth P (7/20/2012 at 12:03 PM)
I am excited to see Georgia as a major player in the telehealth industry!

Mike Zingalis (7/19/2012 at 11:11 AM)
I've seen this in action, and it a great tool that will only expand. When you look at the mobile phone alone, and the computing power that it are going to see the next wave here. For the web, many companies like Digital Group of Telehealth Companies already have the standardized software portal for hospitals and applications ready to go. Also, in the CMS space there are companies that I've consulted for, like Oxcyon, that put interfaces on top of the existing platform to allow design changes and data display changes through the site. Not only that, but through the content management system the hospital could have a multi-tier portal for the hospital, intranet, client services, and more. The information regarding prices for speicific tasks within the medical industry will only become more available, and luxury is lazyness and to think that people would want to come into a hospital repeatedly to be charged heavy sums vs. making a phone call at a fraction of the cost is an unrealistic perspective at best. That's my two cents. Anyone got change for a buck?




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